I’m going to do some of the work of developing my submission for NBCT Component 4 here. I’ll enjoy thinking in your good company, and maybe it’ll be useful to others.
Where to start?
One thing that makes this submission tricky is identifying its core. At first (and at second, third and fourth) it appears to call for a mishmash of evidence: seeking out knowledge about your kids, talking to parents, assessing and instructing the kids, contributing to the learning community.
I’ve been trying to think of this portfolio as really, truly about the cycle of investigation/application we do in teaching. This happens at multiple levels in our work, according to NBCT:
- You seek out knowledge about kids from outside your classroom, and you use that to create assessments…
- …and those assessments give you more information about kids, which you use to teach ’em stuff…
- …which necessitates a summative assessment, which lets you know that your kids have a need that isn’t being addressed…
- …so you seek out knowledge from the broader learning community to address that student need.
It all holds together, even if it’s a bit wobbly. (Do we always discover student needs that force us to collaborate with colleagues? Do we always need to look outside the classroom for our knowledge about kids?)
Because all of this is so inter-connected, it’s hard to know where to begin the work. How can I decide what knowledge to collect without knowing how it’s going to impact the assessment? How can I pick the assessment without knowing if that’s going to lead to a student need that I can write about?
I’m sure there’s more than one way in. My plan is to start by seeking out knowledge about my kids from families and colleagues. I want to do this strategically, though, to make sure that the knowledge I seek is able to impact the design of my assessment.
The portfolio calls for evidence that you gather knowledge about students from parents, families or colleagues, but also that knowledge needs to be used to plan the assessment. In order for this to work, then, I need to be systematic in the knowledge that I seek. Otherwise, I might ask questions that are useless for informing my assessment design.
The group that I’m writing about is a going to be studying similarity and dilations after winter break. Really any task can be a formative assessment if you do it right, so the content they’re assessed on is somewhat flexible. For the sake of thinking this through, I’ll just choose a task at random from the New Visions site.
OK, suppose that some version of this mathematics was the focus of my formative assessment task. What knowledge about my kids (that I could gather from families or colleagues) could impact how I do or design this task?
In order to answer that, it might be helpful to describe some of the choices I have to make about an assessment. With some help from the Thinking Through a Lesson Protocol, here are dimensions along which an assessment task could vary.
- The mathematical goals or the precise nature of the task itself might vary (e.g. I might focus on proof or calculation)
- The support for the task they have might vary (e.g. I might slowly build up to the task with a notice/wonder intro or I might ask them to solve for x)
- Kids can have resources to help them or not (paper, pencils, rulers, scissors, etc.)
- They can work solo, in pairs, with a group. Those groups can be assigned or random or not-assigned.
- They could record their work on paper, whiteboards, on the chalkboard. They could have one record per group. They could not record it and be assessed based on their conversations.
Are there more ways in which an assessment can vary? If so, please point them out in the comments!
Knowledge To Inform Assessment Decisions
I’m used to looking inside my classroom for knowledge about kids. In contrast, NBCT is asking me to look outside the classroom for knowledge to inform my assessments. How am I going to do that?
Most of my knowledge-seeking about these kids happened at the start of the school year, and mostly for this one kid, Kid A. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people about Kid A. I talked to the school’s three learning specialists, this kid’s former math teachers, Kid A’s current math tutor and mother. I worked hard to set up a once-a-week meeting with this kid outside of class. I have OK-not-great records of these conversations, so it wouldn’t be impossible for me to submit them as evidence. And I could probably write a bit about how Kid A’s special set of qualities requires a special sort of assessment: one that starts with plenty of individual think time, then some pair time that I can listen-in on, and only after all that a chance to try to record some ideas on a page.
The issue, though, is that NBCT doesn’t want evidence that you sought knowledge out about one kid in your class. They want to know that you are seeking knowledge out about the entire class. I need to do more than show that I’ve got Kid A’s back.
The class that I’m writing about is quite small — about ten kids. I went through my roster and thought about what questions I still have about them. I’m going to need to find something to learn about the rest of my class for this portfolio.
For a bunch of kids — Kids B-F — I really want to know what they find challenging or fun. This is based on conversations I had at parent-teacher conferences with their parents. All of their parents mentioned that their kids felt math class could be more challenging.
Normally I’d dismiss this as parents making stuff up about their kids, except that (a) this is something I’ve heard from some of these kids myself and (b) focusing on supporting kids who need more time is persistent feedback I get about my teaching and (c) Kid A in particular needs a lot of time, and so does Kid G, and I’m definitely guilty of asking myself while planning so how much longer can we practice this in class before Kids B-F stage a mutiny?
Back to NBCT: I have the notes that I took at conferences scanned, and I could submit this itself as evidence. I don’t know if that’s enough evidence, because I’m not sure how I would take this desire for challenges into account while planning the assessment. Maybe…making sure there’s an optional challenge that’s part of the assessment? Or a choice of two possible paths after kids solve that initial task together?
Any ideas here, people?
I’m also not sure what I could ask parents/colleagues to tell me about the kids that would help me get a better picture of what they find challenging. Hey Parent B, just checking in. Has Kid B mentioned anything about which topics they find challenging or interesting? This is an insane question to ask a parent, instead of asking the kid themselves.
Maybe I could go to these kids’ Algebra 1 teacher and ask what they found interesting last year? I’m not sure what their teachers could say that would help me. Maybe: “Kid C likes to draw”; “Kid D loved solving equations.”
That sounds doable.
The details matter for NBCT. (Oh lord do the details matter.) Here is what you need to show NBCT for your knowledge of the childrens:
- Show that you gathered information from at least two of the following sources: families, colleagues, professionals in the district or in the field, and/or other community members.
- A description of the information about the group of students you collected from multiple sources and how you collected it. [i.e. show that you’re not pulling this out of your butt and lazily being like a parent called me with a question, no, you’re supposed to seek out the info]
- Write a detailed profile or description of the group of students you selected to feature in this portfolio entry based on the information you gathered. [i.e. all kids not just Kid A]
- How did this knowledge inform the kinds of assessments (formative and summative) you planned to use and any modifications that would be necessary given students’ learning modalities, social and emotional growth, exceptionalities, abilities, interests, etc.?
Based on all the above, here’s my plan:
- I’ll show that I sought out info from learning specialists about Kid A and from parents about the degree of challenge. This doesn’t make the strongest case that I actively seek out this info (since the parent-teacher conference thing just falls in your lap) but I’ll reach out to my kids’ past and current teachers to try to get some more perspective. If that works out then that would make a strong case that I seek out this info systematically.
- I’ll need to think some more about what should be part of the detailed profile, but just going on what I have, I could write a bunch now.
- Based on what I currently know about the kids, my submission is going to be about supporting Kid A (and Kid G) who have IEPs and issues that make it hard for them to dive into a tough task on their own while maintaining challenge for Kids B-F. In practice, this might mean multi-layered assessments that include pair/individual work, accessible/work that feels challenging, talking/writing math. That’s sort of a mishmash but I’m generally having a tough time meeting all the kids in my class. (That could be my learning need for the other part of this portfolio, come to think about it.)
Next up: reaching out to colleagues and designing my assessment.